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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Marshall

Words of Respect for My Ancestors

When looking back on my ancestors, it is clear that my roots trace through two life rivers, the first being Slavery, and all of that which American Slavery conjures up in one’s imagination, and the other that many of you can more easily associate with and that is the experience of newly arriving immigrants.

Indeed, as I continue to look back on my life whether it be the River of U.S. Slavery or the River of the New Immigrant Experience... to quote Founder Niwano of my Buddhist faith, Rissho Kosei Kai: “I am deeply aware that I must be one of most fortunate men alive.” I feel the same.

James Lynch Jr and Marion Lynch

Speaking like a southerner, my maternal family “hail's” (comes from) South Carolina. Yes, life in South Carolina as a Slave, as you can imagine, was extremely harsh and brutal at times, but it was also a life of hope, community, and love. Fortunately, for me, and as a Blessing from the universe, I actually knew my Great Grandmother who was born in Slavery.

My Great Grandmother, Mother Downer, developed a life as she came out of Slavery, fought the realities of Slavery, and learned to have hope...and she loved God. Mother Downer, became a minister in a Christian Group called the Church of God, where she married a Christian Minister and moved to New York City, as many people migrating from the South did. She founded five Church of God Churches in NYC, which are still thriving today. She had several children, all of whom became minsters, some of whom became internationally known for their missionary work, and one of whom was my grandmother, Priscilla. Also a Christian Minister. Every weekend, starting at age 4, my grandmother would constantly talk to me about the power of the living God.

Tellingly, when my Great Grandmother from South Carolina died, she made everyone wear white, because she believed that despite the challenges of Slavery that she had faced, she met life with Determination, Hope & Joy!

My father’s parents immigrated to the US from the Island of Barbados in the West Indies. They came to America at the ages of 14 and 17. Both came through Ellis Island, met in Brooklyn through church and fell in love. Gordan and Muriel Lynch had five children, one of whom was my father, James A. Lynch. Yes, I am “junior.” Life, as it was for any immigrant, was hard and tough, but my grandparents taught my father to keep his head up and to keep pushing forward while valuing education. My paternal grandmother, Muriel Lynch, also became a Minister. She founded a Church in NYC, one of the most successful Churches of its time. Her Church emphasized the power of all faiths and to love God.

And, as I begin to end this brief story, I want to share one quick story from Grandmother Lynch which fits perfectly and which I believe, in many ways, speaks for all of my ancestors and their struggle for human decency. Indeed, when I was about 20 years old, Grandmother Lynch was sick in bed, at 80 years of age, in a hospital’s urgent care and most of my family thought that she was going to die. I had a chance to be alone with her at her bed side and said “Grandmother I will pray so that you might get well and live longer,” to which she quietly replied “No Jimmy Jr., please pray for my happiness. It is ones happiness that is always most important of all.”

You see, I could write thousands of stories about cabs not picking me, folks putting knives to my throat while calling me racial epitaphs or how the police stopped me while taking a cab asking me how long have I known the cab driver in the midst of a blizzard in Buffalo, New York, all whilst trying to find grounds to arrest me, but I wanted to leave you with something more powerful than another story, but to leave you with a message of HOPE & LOVE: regardless of the chains around you no one can stop your soul from soaring, and as my late Grandmother would say, so long as we are in harmony with Truth and are willing to Dream, all must be well.

So, with that I hope you can see that I know I have been given life as a result of the tears, faith and compassion of my ancestors. That they had moved forward from Slavery and the Island of Barbados infusing me with Determination, Hope and Joy for better days for All Tomorrow based upon focused work today. I hope that I, too, can share some of their love with all of you should we meet. And yes, despite the challenges, I, too, am one of the most fortunate men alive.

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